Psychiatrist or psychologist? Which one should I choose and what is the difference between them?

There is no doubt that the process of choosing a doctor or psychotherapist seems confusing to many people, so how can we choose the person to whom we will share our secrets and the deepest forms of our psychological suffering? How do we make sure we can trust him? Perhaps this explains part of the people’s reluctance to visit the psychiatrist, as not all of them are ready to reveal themselves in front of another person with such clarity, and they are not able to face the effects of that even if the specialist’s response is positive.

However, the great progress that occurred in the field of mental health, considering it an integral part of health, and considering psychiatry as well as an essential part of public medical services, made the matter more smooth on the ground. This was accompanied by the great role of technology in facilitating the choice of a doctor or specialist, and the comparison between different medical services (in terms of services subject to the logic of supply, demand and competition).

This article attempts to provide general guidelines for the process of selecting a psychological specialist, in addition to guiding you to some simple basic data that may facilitate the selection process for you.

Why is it important to choose your doctor or therapist carefully?

A physician’s personality, communication skills, and ability to understand the patient play a good role in the outcome and recovery of illness, a finding that has been corroborated by increasing research over the years. This effect is particularly important in the psychological field. Because some aspects of the therapeutic process depend a lot on the specific clinical skills and personality of the physician/psychotherapist (1).

In addition, psychological problems vary greatly, which may not be found in other branches of medicine, and this increases the value of specialization, as the child psychiatrist deals with cases that are completely different from the cases that the doctor who specializes in addiction deals with. Choosing a doctor or therapist with appropriate experience carries with it a greater ability to understand what the condition entails, and greater hopes for its improvement (2).

Even in non-pharmacological psychotherapy, treatment schools differ in their view of the problems and their effectiveness in each one. For example, dialectical-behavioral therapy has proven superior to other treatments for borderline personality disorder or suicidal thoughts, while CBT is more effective for depression and anxiety disorders, for example.

It is also important here to say that visiting a psychologist is not a neutral thing, as an incompetent doctor or therapist may make things worse and not leave them even as they are, and vice versa (3). Revising can become very difficult due to bad memories of the first experience. Hence the importance of trying to make a good choice as much as possible from the beginning (even if the change is made for the better later).

On the other hand, the psychological field is still forming and increasing in presence on the scientific and practical levels in our Arab region. There is great confusion among many between what is scientific and what is unscientific in these areas, this makes many vulnerable to falling into the trap and misleading those claiming specialization/knowledge (such as “elders”, human development and energy trainers, “life coaches” and others), and draining their money, efforts and time useless. This is another reason why it is important to make the right choice in counseling when facing a psychological problem.

What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist?

Many people confuse psychology and psychiatry for many reasons, including: they are two fields that actually intersect with each other, and even share the treatment of various mental disorders. Awareness of the difference between them is important as basic knowledge that helps in making the right choice when consulting.

Psychology is a very broad and highly branched field concerned with the study of mental and behavioral processes in humans. Psychiatry, on the other hand, is a branch of medicine, which is concerned with the study, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, and the doctor is an expert in the use of drugs and other treatments in these cases.

The psychiatrist must first obtain a degree in general human medicine, then he must specialize specifically in psychiatry and obtain a certificate of specialization that qualifies him to practice psychiatry and prescribe medications. While a person becomes a psychologist by studying the specialty of psychology at the bachelor’s degree, which is a degree that qualifies him for general work and specialization after that in wide and diverse fields, but it does not qualify for prescribing drugs or even treatment by non-pharmacological psychological methods except with certain limits. A person can then be qualified and specialized in psychotherapy if they obtain a high degree in Clinical Psychology.

In ideal cases, the psychiatrist and psychotherapist (and others) should cooperate in order to provide the best possible interventions for different pathological conditions. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the best possible therapeutic interventions are often the availability of medications – when needed – in addition to psychotherapy and social support according to the biopsychosocial conception of mental disorder (4). Unfortunately, this feature does not exist in many places for many reasons, including the lack of training of doctors on non-pharmacological psychological treatments, although it is extremely important, and among them is the lack of sufficient and strong training programs to teach and qualify distinguished cadres of psychotherapists who are graduates of the specialty of psychology, This leaves the matter subject to individual attempts and diligence.

What do you do when you know you need to see a psychiatrist? How do you choose it?

  • First: try to know the problem well and define it

It is good in the beginning for the person to identify what he suffers from and put that in clear words, even if they are not completely scientific, this will facilitate the next steps when choosing the specialist or the entity that you should turn to.

These questions may help you to adequately and initially identify the problem or symptoms:

  1. How can you describe the problem in simple words?
  2. What aspects have been affected by this problem for you? (Example: mood, cognitive functions such as memory and concentration, eating, sleeping, etc.).
  3. Are there physical symptoms accompanying the problem or psychological symptoms? (Example: rapid heartbeat, sweating, chest tightness, abdominal pain, teeth grinding…etc).
  4. To what extent does the problem affect your daily life and your relationships with others? (The extent of your disruption in studies, work, or social events).
  5. Do you feel that the problem is biological, psychological, ethical or social? (Which of these areas do you lean the most?).
  • Second: Know the job title of the person or specialist to be reviewed

After you define the problem, comes the stage of knowing the field or specialization that deals with these problems specifically. Some minor problems or questions may need a counselor or even a wise person, not necessarily a doctor or therapist. Others require a family counselor or psychosocial support worker. In all cases, it is okay to consult a doctor or a psychotherapist (who are supposed to be the last lines), as consultation does not necessarily mean completing the road from there.

It is also good to know that some psychological problems may have an organic source, or the psychological may intersect with the organic, and then it is good to consult a general practitioner, internist, or a neurologist (knowing that the psychiatrist must rule out organic causes before diagnosing a mental disorder, With caution that some doctors in other specialties do not refer to a psychiatrist for many reasons, the simplest of which are ignorance, the worst of which is exploitation).

Within the psychological field, it is okay to consult a psychiatrist or a specialized clinical therapist, both of whom can distinguish psychological problems (although the doctor is often the most capable and competent in this), and both of them must refer to the other if he finds it necessary (although the ideal case is It is working together as mentioned earlier).

In our Arab world, there is not much specialization within the psychological field in most countries, in other words, we have not yet reached a stage where we have specialists in all sub-fields of psychological sciences. The only possible option because there are no others with sub-specialties at all).

  • Third: Ask and listen to those around you who have seen a doctor or psychiatrist before.

Although hearing the opinions of many people can be distracting, it can also provide a sense of encouragement and reassurance about the choice of going to a psychologist. Most of those who have benefited from their review of a therapist or doctor do not talk about it, but those who have had bad experiences find them more expressive, and this creates an imbalance and the perception that most reviewers have bad experiences, but this is not true, the vast majority of patients feel positive after trying the treatment General (5).

Listening to the experiences and opinions of others (who have already seen a doctor or therapist) contributes to a better picture of the person’s need, a greater ability to choose the most appropriate specialist for them, and a general sense of safety in the treatment process.

  • Fourth: Find the options available around you, and then compare them

The availability and diversity of psychological options and services is determined by the geographic environment in which the person is located, and his financial ability to cover costs. Arab countries in general are less abundant with mental health services and specialists (6), and there may not be a single psychiatrist even in areas far from central cities.

This limitation requires a general knowledge of the options around you, an estimate of their costs and your ability to cover them, and sometimes finding an appropriate equation between quality and cost. Websites or apps can help you find therapists and doctors, and this is one of the great benefits of technological advancement in our lives. You can also ask about any free psychological services in your community (some countries provide free government health services to their citizens, some international organizations working in refugee-receiving countries provide free psychological treatment to refugees and citizens, and some educational institutions provide free psychological counseling to students).

If you prefer the review of a specialist of a particular gender, age, or religious background, try to take these factors into account when researching as well, and do not underestimate them.

We also advise you to read the reviews and comments on the personal and promotional pages of doctors and therapists on these sites. People’s opinions are not a final measure, but they are an important indicator of the specialist’s skills and the way he deals with auditors. It is also a good idea to look at the specialist’s CV (which you may find with some online search) to distinguish and compare different experiences, as some specialists exaggerate their qualifications for marketing purposes only.

In the event that you prefer to review a specialist of a certain gender, age, or religious background because this will make you feel more comfortable in speaking, try to take these factors into consideration when searching as well, and do not underestimate them. It helps forge greater understanding, build remedial alliance, and higher disclosure confidence.

  • Fifth: Choose the doctor/therapist.. Prepare your questions, set your goals, and prepare yourself

The last step of this stage is the act itself. Try not to put off the selection process as long as you research and try. The sooner the specialist is reviewed, the better the outcome of the problem. It is also important that the selection process be accompanied by a general preparation of the questions you want answered, the problems you want to solve, and the goals you want to achieve in the therapeutic process. It is also important to prepare your feelings for all possible possibilities, as this therapist may not be the most appropriate option for sure (so you need to keep your mind and heart alert to what is going on during the sessions), but you have worked as hard as possible, and that is enough in the beginning.

This is the beginning of the road, and you have done everything in your power, so be optimistic, and go!

Tools that may help you

  • Google Maps Reviews

You can always search through the search engine (Google) by putting the name of the doctor’s or therapist’s clinic or his name in the search box, and if it is listed within Google Maps, a page for the clinic will appear, with general information about the clinic, its address and contact phone, in addition to comments Other reviewers and their ratings. Evaluations may give you a preliminary indication about the doctor’s quality and understanding or the price of the scout to review him, but always remember that we humans are biased beings with our experiences, so some reviewers may offend the doctor or therapist unfairly or unjustly, just because he did not give him what he wanted, Don’t believe everything you read, but take advantage of what you will read, and if the same comment is repeated by different people over a long period of time, that should give you an indication of something, right?

  • Video: 6 signs that you should be wary of a therapist or psychiatrist if they exist

In this the video(7) The American psychotherapist, Todd Grande, explains 6 characteristics that are very negative indicators if they are in the psychiatrist, and it is good to be aware of them at the stage of searching for a therapist or doctor.

  • Video: The main differences between a “psychiatrist” and “psychologist”

In this the video(8), presented by Dr. Ammar Nawab (Psychiatrist) An overview of the basic differences between a physician and a psychiatrist (specialist).

  • Book: How to choose a psychotherapist? (untranslated)

  • Book: Finding the Right Psychiatrist: A Guide for the Distinguished Client (Untranslated)



  1. Better relationships with patients lead to better outcomes – APA
  2. Blow, A. J., Sprenkle, D. H., & Davis, S. D. (2007). Is who delivers the treatment more important than the treatment itself? The role of the therapist in common factors.
  3. Dolinsky, A., Vaughan, S. C., Luber, B., Mellman, L., & Roose, S. (1998). A Match Made in Heaven?: A Pilot Study of Patient–Therapist Match.
  4. How Do I Choose Between Medication and Therapy? – APA
  5. Americans Feel Good About Counseling – BARNA
  6. Okasha, A., Karam, E., & Okasha, T. (2012). Mental health services in the Arab world.
  7. Six Signs of a Bad Therapist (Counselor / Mental Health Clinician)
  8. What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? from the inside | The Inside

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